One of the things that made Eastbound & Down’s first season stand out was how it felt less like an episodic sitcom than a movie aired in six half-hour blocks. Maybe David Gordon Green’s participation influenced that perception—dude’s made some fine films—or maybe it felt that way because that’s what Green and Jody Hill and Danny McBride intended. The episodes that Green directs have always had their own distinct pacing, often more leisurely than a typical episode, with scenes that on the surface seem to last a bit too long. They’ve got that Southern sprawl. That lead to the closest this show’s ever come to outright disaster, with last season’s first Ashley Schaffer episode, which featured some of Kenny’s best lines before derailing into a miserable farce. But it also can lead to episodes like “Chapter 24”, an unhurried haze that might seem like a digression at first but clearly reinforces the show’s themes while hinting at the story to come.
It’s not just the pacing but the tone that’s often different in Green’s episodes. Not that his episodes are necessarily consistent between themselves, but his episodes tend to be less gleeful in their mayhem than Jody Hill’s, more surreal or dreamlike. That’s another reason his “Chapter 15” rankled—it strayed too far from any semblance of reality. Chapter 24 doesn’t come close to that level of cartoonishness, but just because it’s more realistic in its hedonism doesn’t make it any less dreamlike in its woozy depiction of water park nightlife. Like a long night of partying it just eventually ends quietly in guilt and remorse.
Like “Chapter 15”, “Chapter 24” moves the plot along during its first half before isolating itself to a single location that represents a highly abstracted and falsified sense of reality. Instead of Ashley Schaeffer’s would-be antebellum plantation, “Chapter 24” winds up at the fictional Congo Canyon water park (I was hoping for the very real Carowinds), where Kenny and April’s party instincts overtake their parenting skills and gives their obnoxious friends (played to catty suburban perfection by Jillian Bell and Tim Heidecker) more reasons to feel superior.
Kenny takes April’s responsibility for granted, but we’ve seen her in party mode enough to realize she can raise as much hell as he can, and when you’re sharing your life with such an irresponsible asshole you’ll obviously need to get supremely faced every once in a while. So it’s hard to hold her colossal intake against her, even if she should realize Kenny won’t help out and actually watch after their kids. And Kenny’s standards for horrible behavior are so far gone that his decisions in this episode almost feel like a personal victory at first. Sure, he does tons of coke with a mutant New England family of old folks, hot girls and a nunchuk-sporting dude named Shawnsee, but he doesn’t let Shawnsee’s twin sister go down on him in a swimming pool, and that’s Gandhi-level discipline for Kenny. When he cracks later on and slips out of his room to go track her down (which we pointedly see is observed by his still awake son) we’re reminded once again that Kenny Powers never actually changes. The allure of his fame isn’t all-powerful, though, and a spurned Shawnsee’s sister makes the right decision for Kenny, leaving him profoundly unpleasured.
Again: Kenny never changes. Eastbound will never let us forget that. Like Of Mice and Men we know this tragedy will keep repeating itself, but we’re helpless to stop it, and actually it’s not much of a tragedy anyway since Kenny’s such a massive fool that he deserves everything that comes his way. But this train wreck is coming in slow motion and all we can do is cringe and laugh.
The first half of “Chapter 24” stresses that strongly, to hilarious effect. Kenny is now a regular on Sports Sesh and immediately starts throwing his money away. His scene comparing gift baskets with Guy Young (all-time MVP Ken Marino, playing another ex-athlete that’s basically exactly like Kenny but good-looking and composed and intelligent enough to pass as a productive member of society), his newfound love for his dancing robot Yul Brynner (“go about your journeys, Yul”), the wolf he brings home to toughen up his son, and his attempt to use money to smooth over his issues with his brother Dustin show yet again that Kenny reduces everything to money, fame and exotic robotics. He’s the gauche sprawl of the South’s nouveau riche suburbs in human form, concerned solely with letting everybody know how much money he has to blow on total nonsense.